04/27/2017 3:00PM

Werther seeks repeat in Queen Elizabeth II Cup

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Hong Kong Jockey Club
Werther will try to repeat his winning performance at last year's Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Werther was named Horse of the Year for the 2015-16 Hong Kong season partially on the strength of his win in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse last April.

To have any chance to win that title this year, Werther will need another win in Sunday’s $2.5 million Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse. It is not an easy assignment. The Queen Elizabeth II Cup has drawn the last three winners of the race, including Designs On Rome (2014) and Blazing Speed (2015).

Still, Werther has a confident trainer in John Moore, who considers the 5-year-old gelding to be well prepared for Sunday’s race at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

“Werther’s as fit as he was last year,” Moore told Hong Kong publicity on Thursday. “The interrupted start to the season has meant that we lead into this race off a perfect prep. He’s peaking at the right time.”

On Thursday, Werther had a gallop that included a final six furlongs in 1:20 under jockey Sam Clipperton.

“He was strong through the line and strong after the line,” Moore said. “Sam said the horse didn’t want to pull up.”

While Clipperton has ridden Werther in the past, Australian jockey Hugh Bowman has the mount Sunday.

Werther did not have his first start of the current Hong Kong season until January, when he was sixth in the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup. He followed with a win in the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles on turf Feb. 26 and was later fourth in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy behind Rapper Dragon, the leading 4-year-old on the circuit. Rapper Dragon is not part of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup field.

Designs On Rome, also trained by Moore, will be an outsider in Sunday’s race. A 7-year-old gelding, Designs On Rome won a minor handicap in October but is winless in his last five starts. Designs On Rome was eighth in the Chairman’s Trophy.

Blazing Speed, trained by Tony Cruz, was second in the Hong Kong Gold Cup and fifth in the Chairman’s Trophy. Cruz also runs Pakistan Star, who was second to Rapper Dragon in the Hong Kong Classic Cup in February and the Hong Kong Derby in March.

Pakistan Star is a major threat from off the pace.

The race has three international shippers – Dicton from France, Neorealism from Japan, and The United States from Australia.

Dicton was third in the French 2000 Guineas and French Derby last year. Neorealism won the Group 2 Nakayaka Kinen at 1 1/8 miles on turf in February in his latest start. Joao Moreira, the leading rider in Hong Kong, will ride Neorealism.

The United States was a Group 1 winner in Australia in 2016 and was fourth behind the brilliant mare Winx in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick Racecourse near Sydney on April 8.